Schumacher, Ernst Friedrich (1911 – 1977) German/English Economist

views updated

Ernst Friedrich Schumacher (1911 1977)
German/English economist

E. F. Schumacher combined his background in economics with an extensive background in theology to create a unique strategy for reforming the world's socioeconomic systems, and by the early 1970s he had risen nearly to folk hero status.

Schumacher was born in Bonn, Germany. He attended a number of educational institutions, including the universities of Bonn and Berlin, as well as Columbia University in the United States. He eventually received a diploma in economics from Oxford University, and emigrated to England in 1937. During World War II, Schumacher was forced to work as a farm laborer in an internment camp. By 1946, however, he had become a naturalized British citizen, and in that same year he accepted a position with the British section of the Control Commission of West Germany. In 1953 he was appointed to Great Britain's National Coal Board as an economic advisor, and in 1963 he became director of statistics there. He stayed with the National Coal Board until 1970.

Schumacher recognized the contemporary indifference to the course of world development, as well as its implications. He began to seek alternative plans for sustainable development , and his interest in this issue led him to found the Intermediate Technology Development Group in 1966. Today, this organization continues to provide information and other assistance to less developed countries . Schumacher believed that in order to build a global community that would last, development could not exploit the environment and must take into account the sensitive links between the environment and human health. He promoted research in these areas during the 1970s as president of the Soil Association, an organization that advocates organic farming worldwide.

Schumacher also combined his studies of Buddhist and Roman Catholic theology into a philosophy of life. In his highly regarded book, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered (1973), he stresses the importance of self-reliance and promotes the virtues of working with nature rather than against it. He argues that continuous economic growth is more destructive than productive, maintaining that growth should be directly proportionate to human need. People in society, he continues, should apply the ideals of conservation (durable-goods production, solar energy , recycling ) and appropriate technology in their lives whenever possible.

In his A Guide For the Perplexed (1977), published in 1977, Schumacher is even more philosophical. He attempts to provide personal rather than global guidance, encouraging self-awareness and urging individuals to embrace what he termed a "new age" ethic based on Judeo-Christian principles. He also wrote various pamphlets, including: Clean Air and Future Energy, Think About Land, and Education for the Future.

Schumacher died in 1977 while traveling in Switzerland from Lausanne to Zurich.

[Kimberley A. Peterson ]



Schumacher, E. F. A Guide for the Perplexed. New York: Harper & Row, 1977.

. Small is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered. London: Blond and Briggs, 1973.


Fraker, S., and G. C. Lubenow. "Mr. Small." Newsweek (March 28, 1977): 18.

"Why It Is Important to Think Small." International Management (August 1977): 1820.

About this article

Schumacher, Ernst Friedrich (1911 – 1977) German/English Economist

Updated About content Print Article